Susan and Ed Estes at the official ceremonial groundbreaking for the Performing Arts Center
January 28, 2008--A number of sizable gifts totaling $5.8 million have bolstered efforts to reach the $10 million in essential private funding needed for the future Performing Arts Center, which broke ground in October. The world-class center is being constructed on South Main St. across from the Quad. It will total 167,000 square feet and cost just over $80 million and cause a cultural as well as physical transformation. The approximately $70 million remaining will come from state support through a bond referendum passed in 2002 and from other university sources. Private gifts have come from:
In making his contribution, Ed Estes, a self-made man who built a trucking empire, wanted to honor his high school sweetheart and wife, Dorothy Thomasson Estes ('45), who died in 1996. Estes' gift -- $2.5 million and the largest private gift in JMU history -- will fund the Dorothy Thomasson Estes Center for Theatre and Dance.
Estes' daughter, Martha Estes Grover ('83), said her mother "would have been embarrassed by the attention, but she would have tears in her eyes that dad recognized her in such a way at JMU."
Love of his wife also prompted Richard D. Roberts' $1 million gift to establish the Shirley Hanson Roberts Concert Hall. The decision to give back to JMU came after the Richard Roberts visited the school for Shirley's 50th class reunion. Before the reunion, the Robertses had not been to JMU for more than 20 years. They said they were amazed by what they saw: the growth of the school, the warmth of the atmosphere and the needs of Shirley's alma mater.
However, Shirley protested her husband's idea to give a gift to JMU in her name. "Shirley is the practical one -- I'm kind of the wild-eyed dreamer," Richard Roberts said. He finally won her over with a compelling argument.
"Students today, tomorrow, 20 years from now, will never know who Shirley Hanson was," Richard finally told her. "But when they walk into that concert hall, they will realize that someone named Shirley Hanson Roberts, Class of 1956, thought enough of her experience at JMU to be sure that they have a chance to have, in this particular venue, a world-class experience."
For Elizabeth Swallow support of the arts at JMU began with piano lessons from Professor Eric Ruple and enjoyment of the school's performances. Through Swallow's gifts and initiative, the Madison Bluestone Art Case Steinway was created and the university's All Steinway School designation was achieved.
"I regard the [art case] piano as a big bulletin board or a big birthday card for the school's centennial ... it seemed like a good way to raise money and publicity for the Performing Arts Center," Swallow said.
Swallow also conceived of selling 100 limited edition Steinways -- in all shapes and sizes -- with a painting by Mia LaBerge ('92) on the piano's music desk to raise money for School of Music scholarships. The limited edition pianos -- one for each year of JMU's history -- are the first Steinway limited edition to commemorate an All-Steinway School of Music.
Judy Strickler ('60), a JMU Board of Visitors member, has reserved the Proscenium Lobby for naming. Judy remembers fondly how as a student her exposure to art and music appreciation helped her to grow and develop as a person.
"Once the Performing Arts Center, with its convenient parking, is complete, it will be wonderful to have even greater accessibility for the community to experience these exceptional theater and dance productions," Strickler said. "The building itself will be spectacular. It will be a real asset not only for JMU, but also for the community at large."
Former dance department head Earlynn Miller has reserved the dance studio for naming Joe ('77) and Joanne Converse ('78M) have reserved the choral balcony for naming.
Funds continue to be raised toward the $10 million private fundraising goal for the center, and naming opportunities remain for others who are interested I helping to make this new arts venue world class. For more information about making a gift, please contact the James Madison University Office of Development toll free at (800) 296-6162.